JUSTICE & THE GOSPEL
I spent my Christmas holiday on a cruise to the Bahamas with my family. In their usual fashion my parents found a church and a pastor to visit with while we were on the island. Honestly, the conversation with this pastor was the best part of our trip. Its always interesting to see what foreigners, especially those of African descent, think of America. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t have too high of an opinion of the US and for good reason. This pastor had done both his undergraduate and graduate studies in America, so he was well acquainted with the dangers he faced as a black man in our country. I forget which question he was answering, but when he said, “At least I’m safe in my own country, I don’t have to worry about the police shooting me in the back just because I’m walking while black”, my heart sank. I felt the same sinking feeling when Sandra Bland died, and when the decision to not indict came back for the Tamir Rice case. I could fill a whole blog post up of the names of African-Americans who have died at the hands of police brutality. This pastor’s objective view of my country was sobering. Straight up, Sandra Bland could have been me. I live in Texas and have traveled the country roads between major cities in this state many times. As an African American woman in this country I live with a measure of fear. No amount of western conveniences can make up for feeling a sense of danger from those who are supposed to protect me.
The State of The Union
The current race relations situation is bad, really bad, unacceptably bad. Yet I would be naive to think that this situation is a new reality. Social media has just provided a new and powerful communication pathway for the civil rights movement. We no longer have to rely on the media or our daily newspaper to tell our story, we can tell it ourselves. #blacktwitter is a powerhouse and viral videos have put the heart wrenching truth of our justice system in the hands of everyday people. We are able to share ideas without propaganda and are able to see the faces of the victims without the usual dehumanizing “thug life” coating. (i.e the portrayal of Trayvon Martin as a thug and not a 17 year old child). Our Facebook feeds, newspapers, and evening newscasts are oversaturated with stories of injustice and we have no choice but to face what has been in the shadows for too long.
This country has a long and strong history of racism, and while we have seen improvement we have a long way to go. Yet we as the evangelical church need to be honest that our historical response has fallen far too often in the silence category. At Urbana 15, InterVarsity backed #blacklivesmatter. This well known and influential evangelical organization jumped into this race situation with both feet. They didn’t just dip their toes in, they jumped into the deep end. We as believers need to be engaged. We as evangelicals need to be engaged. We cannot celebrate the gospel of Jesus Christ and turn a blind eye to the injustice that exists within our own country. The same push we put behind abortion we need to put behind racial justice. We need to make it our business to see about the welfare of the city, for our welfare is connected to the community in which we live. (Jeremiah 29)
To Love God Is To Love My Neighbor
All races and all ethnicities are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. Which means that God took intricate care in uniquely crafting each and every one of us. We are all special and beautiful creations that deserve to be valued and celebrated. Simply put, we need to uphold the value of humanity. We also need to uphold the value of community. Scripture is full of the “one anothers” (love one another, be at peace with one another, honor one another above yourselves…). As believers these “one anothers” aren’t suggestions, they are commands. More than that, they are the essence of who we should be as image bearers of God and co-heirs with his Son Jesus. To love God is to love our neighbor and our neighbors include the people whose lives are being ravaged by police brutality and injustice in our country.
In Matthew 6 Jesus prays for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. I believe that God’s will for this earth includes peace. I believe he desires to shower down blessings on us from being unified as one body of believers (Psalm 133). Disunity in this country is a work of the enemy, who wants to distract us from experiencing the full glory of God. Unity and peace are intertwined with justice, and you and I have a biblical responsibility to fight for justice in this country.
It is easy to write or talk about fighting for justice, living it out is the hard part. In case you don’t know where to start here are a few action points to make our fight for unity more tangible:
- Stay Engaged – Watch the news, read articles, blogs, and other media sources to stay engaged with what is happening in our country. Don’t be ignorant of what is going on right around you. Also, educate yourself. There are a plethora of books and other resources to help you learn about race relations in our country. Need a book suggestion? The following authors are good places to start: Martin Luther King Jr, Cornel West, W.E.B Du Bois, Michelle Alexander, Beverly Daniel Tatum. Need a website suggestion? www.raanetwork.org, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/black-voices. Need a suggestion for who to follow on twitter ? https://twitter.com/ThabitiAnyabwil. Remember these are just a start…
- Be An Advocate – Use the power you have to advocate for those who don’t have a voice. Use your privilege (White & American) for good. Speak out against injustice, but also speak out against racist ideologies and subtle forms of hate. This could be your involvement in a local nonviolent protest or around the table at dinner with your family. Don’t support ignorant comments with silence or laughter. Challenge ignorance with truth. Be the example for how to love your neighbor, even when they don’t share the same faith as you do.
- Vote As An Informed Voter – Many of the changes that need to happen in this country are on a political level. First, use your right to vote to speak your voice. Second, be an informed voter. Research who is up for election, their past political history, and where they stand on issues that are important to race and culture in our country. We need people who desire unity in office, and you have the power to put them there.
- Live In Diverse Community – This might seem like a random action point, but it is not. The reason it is easy for evangelicals to stay silent is because they believe these issues do not affect them. True, we are compassionate but we are not invested. We get invested when these headline issues become the stories of people we care about. But you cannot care about people you do not know. Our churches and communities are homogenous. Take the time to worship in a church that is different from your culture. Frequent restaurants, stores, and places of entertainment in different communities. Get to know your coworkers, fellow classmates, and even neighbors down the street who look different than you. Share a meal with them, learn their story, and then see how you feel about the injustice in our country.
- Confess and Forgive – Racism is a sin which needs to be confessed, but that confession needs to be reciprocated with forgiveness. Working through issues of race and culture is hard, messy, and uncomfortable. However, that does not assuage us of the responsibility to fight for unity. Morn the losses that have been incurred, cry out for the pain that is inflicted upon our brothers and sisters, and give space for righteous anger towards the sin we see and experience. But don’t allow that anger to cause you to sin, and don’t allow guilt to back you into the corner of immobility. We fight, not for what is fair, but for what Jesus said is right!
- Pray. Pray. Pray – While everyone can’t be on the front lines protesting we all need to be on our knees praying for God to intervene in a mighty way! The true solution to racism comes through heart change and He is the only one who can change hearts.
My ultimate hope is in Jesus and that with his second coming the evils in the world will be destroyed. But until he returns my role is to advance his Kingdom here on earth. I pray you will join me.